14th June, 2015

14th June, 2015:
Sunset: 8:05pm
(We had our dinner at 6:30pm and did the cleaning and removal of leftovers by 8pm)
Time: 8:30 pm – 9:30 pm
This was officially the first session of CUREA 2015 and we were introduced to Dr. Paula Turner (director of CUREA), Prof. Mike Simmons (long time astronomer, founder of Astronomers Without Borders and instructor), Prof. John (from the Big Bear Solar observatory) and Prof. Bob Buchheim(CUREA instructor). All of them have been experts in Astronomy and have a huge deal of knowledge to take from.
After that we were to introduce ourselves, where we came from, what we do and what our favourite astronomical objects were. The purpose was to get an introduction to the different kinds of objects listed and know about their distances from Earth.
9:30pm : We were given safety instructions about being on the Mountain and taken to the 16inch observatory. Before going in Prof. Turner gave us an introduction to what constellations were, helped us spot planets Jupiter and Venus in the west, constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the North, Leo, Scorpio and the major stars in them. Saturn was in Scorpio. It is interesting to see that Ursa Major has the story of a bear in several cultures across the world. One very good point which we learned was about the Averted Vision. When you look at a star/object, sometimes you see it better when you’re not looking at it directly. This is because our eyes have two important parts – the cones and the rods. Cones are located in the centre of the eye and are cells which are sensitive to colour. However the rods which are the ends of eyes are sensitive to dim-light but not colour. Therefore, if you look at the say the cluster Pleiades you would find that it looks much better in averted vision although you can’t notice the colour.
Then we went to 16 inch observatory dome and climbed the spiral staircase to the deck on which the giant was kept. Dr. Turner started by showing us the directions so that we don’t get confused when the dome rotates. So the spiral staircase faces East. Then she asked me to unclamp the window of the door and open it manually. (There are automatic controls for doing the same in big observatories but sometimes old ways are the best ways).
Then we were asked to remove the telescope mirror cover-plate, eye-piece and view finder coverings and ensure all of them were kept in proper places so that we remember where we had kept them. The balancing of the telescope was checked and it was perfect. After these initial checks were done, we switched on the main power supply to the telescope and computer. The dome isn’t open completely. You only have to look through that window. So it becomes important to rotate the dome so that the window faces exactly where we want to see the star. To do that there is a lever which has to be turned in the opposite direction as the movement of the dome. For example, if your object is at right, you move the lever left so that the dome window starts moving right.
After that we were introduced to 3 computer software which we will be using – MAXIM Dl (I use this in India), The Sky and the pointer.
For today’s purpose, the last 2 were important. ‘The Sky’ helps to select an object of interest and to feed it’s co-ordinates to the telescope. We first pointed to the star Arcturus and tried to see if it is in the field of the eyepiece. The star was and it looked orange/yellowish in colour. Some of us saw the bluish colour too which was an optical abberation. Saturn looked brilliant and that was the best ever sight of Saturn I had seen. We could see the rings, the spacing and almost 6 moons!
Each of us was given an opportunity to control the telescope with the software and control the dome movement. This was done in pairs so that all of us got a chance to operate the instrument. We saw the globular cluster M13, Ring Nebula M57 and the great Whirlpool Galaxy M51. It was the best ever time I had seeing these objects as I know how they look in a 8 inch or 4 inch telescope.
We closed down at 12:10 am and were sent right to monastery to get some sleep.
(I have not mentioned many details of using the telescope in the dome but I will do that in the coming days. Too tired right now to type more…)

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